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The city and the university

October 06, 2003

This past Saturday The Herald-Mail printed a long letter from Hagerstown Mayor William Breichner defending the city's performance in regard to the development of the University System of Maryland's Hagerstown Education Center. While we appreciate the budgetary difficulties facing the city government, we remain convinced that the city government should designate one person to lead the effort to get this campus fully funded.

That's not to denigrate the work now being done by City Engineer Rodney Tissue, who's handling construction issues or Planning Director Kathleen Maher, who's working on grant funding and design of the open space near the campus project.

City Finance Director Al Martin, a Frostburg University graduate, is also working closely with officials of FSU, which will operate the center on USM's behalf.

What Breichner's letter did not say was that someone has been assigned to lobby Maryland General Assembly officials to ensure that once the construction is complete, there will be operating funds to enable USM officials to open the door.

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Yes, this is also the responsibility of Washington County's General Assembly delegation, but those lawmakers are members of other committees considering many bills that have nothing at all to do with Hagerstown. This project needs the attention of someone who can concentrate on securing those funds full-time.

That person does not have to be a city employee. It could be a paid lobbyist familiar with the ways of the legislature. Former House Speaker Cas Taylor is in that profession now and might be persuaded to take this on.

Is the city strapped for the money that would pay a lobbyist? No doubt, but this job won't take years. Whoever does it will succeed or fail by next April, when the 2004 session ends.

If the effort is a success and the $1 million in operating funds is guaranteed, the General Assembly is unlikely to pull the plug in future years for fear of alienating every student who attends here - and their parents.

And so getting that first year funded is critical. We appeal to the mayor, based on his years of experience in government, to look at the designation of someone to lobby for this as preventive maintenance.

As head of the city's Water Department, Breichner had to make sure the pipes that brought water to residents were in good shape. Hagerstown city officials, who lobbied for this center to be located in the downtown area, need to designate someone to make sure state funds for it get into the pipeline.

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